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6 questions Weber State football looks to answer in fall camp

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Aug 9, 2022

ISAAC FISHER, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Weber State receivers coach Skyler Ridley, left, shares a smile with defensive back Kamden Garrett (7) during the first practice of fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

Weber State is through the first week of fall camp ahead of a Sept. 1 opener hosting Western Oregon, and the Wildcats are busy trying to answer some questions.

Here’s a look at six items that have the focus of the coaches, most of which were identified by head coach Jay Hill himself as questions he’s looking to answer.

How will the offense mesh and which QB takes charge?

As of now, sophomore Bronson Barron appears to remain as QB1 for Weber State, and it’s not too much of a leap to assume he’ll be the guy come September. But — a small but — it’s worth remembering that Barron himself won the job from transfer Randall Johnson two seasons ago after Johnson began camp practicing as the No. 1 dude. Junior Kylan Weisser looked good in his snaps last season, after all.

That seems relevant to mention because Weber State has a new offense with coordinator and QBs coach Mickey Mental taking over the unit. So either guy could lead the offense, with sophomore and last year’s run specialist Creyton Cooper currently at No. 3 and junior college transfer Brian Harper providing depth.

Mental had success at Notre Dame College, with his offenses averaging 36.9 points per game over his seven-year tenure as play-caller. That grew to 42.5 points in the final three seasons.

“Solidifying depth at quarterback is always critical,” Hill said. “We really feel like we have three or four guys that we can win with. We had three guys get substantial reps last year. So just solidifying that depth chart.”

Whoever is in charge — likely Barron, if everyone stays healthy — will need to master the system, because WSU is five years waiting for the offense to produce even somewhat close to how its defense plays.

Who’s going to be catching the ball?

Ty MacPherson takes over the group as a senior leader and a proven on-field playmaker. He catches nearly everything that touches one iota of a finger. He’s even claimed uniform No. 1, perhaps a glimpse at his confidence and how much he sometimes likes to talk on the gridiron.

“The old man,” Barron chuckled. “The veteran, he’s proven himself in games.”

MacPherson caught 37 passes last year and deferred to a finally-in-focus effort to throw deep to the now-New Orleans Saints receiver Rashid Shaheed. In the spring of 2021, MacPherson led WSU in yards per reception at 20.8.

Junior receiver Jon Christensen comes into 2022 with 23 career receptions.

“Really not many other people have played much, though there are some veteran guys who have been on the roster for a while,” Hill said.

One of those is junior receiver Haze Hadley. Expectations are that Hadley will make hay in the slot this season. Sophomore and fellow Weber County product Hudson Schenck may also have similar success in the slot.

After that, it’s a free-for-all in camp to solidify who might play on the outside. Devin Ford and Colby Samuels are redshirt freshmen with a year in the program. Jacob Sharp is a third-year, athletic sophomore but spent the start of his career on defense. Abraham Williams is also in that been-in-the-program-but-hasn’t-really-played group.

And then, a bunch of true freshmen: Marvin Session, Tajon Evans, Jaden Thrower, Treyshun Hurry, Marcus Chretien, Tre Parks-Vinson.

“All those freshmen have done a great job and I’m excited for them to progress throughout camp,” Barron said. “Those guys just need the reps and I feel very good about the receivers room. They’re going to grow and they’ll be big for us.”

Will veterans step up?

“Those groups that do have a bunch of veterans, those guys have got to play great,” Hill said. “We have as good a running back group as there is in the country, and they’ve got to play great this fall. We’ve got a great tight end group, they need to play great. We’ve got great defensive tackles, great corners.

“Those groups are going to be expected to carry a heavy load, and they need to play well.”

So speaking of pass-catchers, the tight ends. Senior Justin Malone has the most experience, with Hayden Meacham bringing back a ton of reps. Logan Snyder has special teams experience. Dallin Jamison is no longer on the roster, true freshman Keayan Nead is returned from a mission, and Pete Knudson has moved from linebacker to tight end. That’s been a group that seemed primed to break out but, like much of the offense, has struggled to find any kind of consistent impact, for many reasons.

Running backs and cornerbacks have the fewest questions of any group on the roster.

“I don’t think you’ve ever seen a room that deep,” Barron said about his running backs. “We have a healthy Josh Davis and I can honestly say since I’ve been here, I’ve never seen him be 100%, but now he’s 100% and I’m stoked. We get Kevin Smith back. And we still have Damon (Bankston), Dontae (McMillan), KJ (Kris Jackson). We’re just deep back there, we love it.”

Even true freshman Adrian Cormier looks built like a college back and could probably produce if called upon, and redshirt freshman Steven Shoats-Thomas was the spring game’s best playmaker with several veterans sitting out.

Eddie Heckard, Marque Collins, Maxwell Anderson and Kam Garrett have grown up together on the outside of WSU’s defense and are as experienced as it gets, with youngster Jalon Rock standing to earn more reps at cornerback.

On the interior defensive line, Sione Lapuaho, Doug Schiess and Kalisi Moli are formidable and experienced, to say the least.

Who’s left at defensive end?

The group of defensive ends took a hit this offseason. Logan Lutui (BYU) and George Tarlas (Boise State) were as skilled as it gets in the Big Sky, and they’ve transferred to new teams. And oft-contributing McKade Mitton never quite got back to form after a major injury a couple years ago, and he’s done with his college career.

“We need some defensive ends to step up and prove that they can be real guys,” Hill said.

Okiki Olorunfunmi brings the most experience back. Redshirt freshman Brayden Wilson out of Farmington High has impressed coaches. Davis High product Jordan Strate has been in the program since 2018.

Weber State brought in big Shad Pulsipher from Snow College, and Woods Cross product Nuu Sellesin looks the part of a big-time end looking to get on the field after two seasons in the program.

Cameren Cope, Ashden Oberg and Nelson Arapa are the true freshmen in the group.

Who’s the next star linebacker?

Conner Mortensen and Sherwin Lavaka are the latest high-producing linebackers to see eligibility expire and leave holes for someone else to fill. Whether it’s been LeGrand Toia and Landon Stice, or Austin Tesch and Noah Vaea, there’s always been seemingly daunting departures that end up being filled by plenty-capable newcomers.

One such player stands to be junior Winston Reid, now moved to middle linebacker and wearing No. 6.

“Winston Reid has played a lot of football for us and looks good, and he had an outstanding spring,” Hill said.

Converted safety Spencer Niutupuivaha has his feet wet at linebacker and now, as a senior, seems poised to take over the weak-side spot, or what WSU calls “rover.” Sophomore Garrett Beck is vying for time there, too.

“They were stalwarts the last couple years on special teams,” Hill said. “I know what kind of football players those guys are, they just need to make sure they learn the schemes, the adjustments, all that stuff and be ready to go.”

And Hill pointed to senior Raoul Johnson as the guy taking over the strong side with Reid moving to the middle.

“He’s been here for a long time, he’s a playmaker, we need him to play at an all-conference type of level, which I know he can,” Hill said about Johnson. “Athletically, strength, we know he’s got it, he just needs to get on the field and play.”

Former Utah Tech transfer and senior Simote Lokotui figures to be in the mix, as coaches like his physicality.

Jack Kelly, Jayden Ah You and Alema Tupuola are all redshirt freshmen who may end up making plays here or there as the season goes on.

What kind of playmaking is there on the back end?

Weber State’s safeties group lost of a ton of experience with the graduation of Preston Smith, a prototypical safety with a nose for the ball, whether that be in the air or on the ground.

Desmond Williams has been a clear playmaker for the group, but only when healthy. If he stays on the field, WSU will prosper. Naseme Colvin is the other main player returning with any notable experience, outside of Braxton Gunther who was with the team in the spring and, hopes are, will be this fall. LJ Anderson, Maxwell’s brother, has spent two seasons in the program and stands to contribute.

Behind them is a lot of unproven but exciting talent. Syracuse High alum Ty Metcalfe is a redshirt freshman who got one season of experience in at Idaho State after serving a mission.

Among true freshmen, Trevian Tribble may have a leg up as someone who participated in spring ball and started making plays. EJ Evett, Koa Hansen and Pierre Hunter were accomplished high school players who constitute the rest of the depth.

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